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Thread: A Chef Whose Specialty Was Firefighting

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    A Chef Whose Specialty Was Firefighting

    A Chef Whose Specialty Was Firefighting

    December 31, 2001

    Every New York City firefighter has at least one second job, it seems, unless he is home taking care of the children while his wife works. But few moonlighting stints have brought as much joy to the department as that of Rescue Co. 2 firefighter Daniel Libretti, 43, whose Crown Heights brethren got to feast on the same crepes and souffles he prepared on off days as a pastry chef at the top-rated Manhattan restaurant La Caravelle.

    "I don't know the names of half the things he made for us - I'm a simple guy," said Pete Romeo, a longtime friend and company member, who helped carry Libretti's remains from the rubble of the World Trade Center on Oct. 10. "But all the rich people are paying a lot of money for the food we were eating. He'd do the meal from start to finish. You didn't have to help him. I guess it's a chef thing."

    Still, there was no easier way to torment Libretti than to tell him he was a terrific cook. He wanted to be known as a good firefighter.

    And he was - one of the best - his peers say, who spent 15 years in East New York's Ladder Co. 103, for a time the city's busiest firehouse in its worst neighborhood, a place ambitious firefighters fought to join.

    No precinct in the city had a higher murder rate when Libretti got himself assigned there at the height of the crack epidemic in the early 1980s. Gaunt addicts roamed the streets breaking into anything that wasn't locked behind concertina wire, toppling telephone poles to scavenge the copper cable. The back wall of the firehouse was a popular spot for executions. Libretti and his fellow firefighters were called out an average of 30 times a night, typically to burning crack houses, heavily barricaded, decaying buildings that were littered with dirty needles and salted with booby traps. Sometimes they managed to rescue the children who too often were left untended in those buildings. Sometimes a person would stagger over from the bar across the street with a broken beer bottle sticking out of his belly after a fight, or a bullet wound. Tending to them was part of their job, too, because there weren't enough police to go around.

    It was the kind of place where people would call the fire department at 2 in the morning because a sink was clogged, a stove didn't work, someone had gotten locked out of their apartment. But the guys at Ladder 103 always came.

    "There wasn't a lot of good happening anywhere around us," recalled Romeo, who met Libretti at that firehouse in 1985. "You just try to go and help. You're the hope in the neighborhood."

    For an aggressive firefighter like Libretti, this harsh place was heaven, with his co-workers, a cast of characters each crazier than the next who called themselves "TheMen's Club," as they went out each night amid the gun battles, adrenaline pumping, helping wherever they could. Before they turned in at night, Libretti would take orders for breakfast.

    Libretti was a character, too, friends say, a man who could fit in as easily at the Ritz as on the corner of Bergen Street and Schenectady Avenue, a happy man brimming with energy, a patient man who loved people. Over morning coffee, he'd tell his wife, Dolores, he was thinking of building a deck, and she'd come home from work to find it half completed. He had a thing for winemaking, too: red, white, you named it, he'd make it, calling his label Ridgewood Estates after the street in Elthingville, in Staten Island, where he and his wife lived.

    Life gradually improved in East New York and, two years ago, Libretti moved up to Rescue 2 looking for more action. He was already much admired there, said company member Duane Woods - for both his firefighting and his cooking.

    Indeed, he was hounded in the kitchen by men trying to learn his secrets. Eddie Rall, another man from Rescue 2 who died Sept. 11, and also a perfectionist, was one of them.

    "He'd be like, 'OK, what do you do next, Danny?'" Romeo recalled. "Eddie was all set to make the meal at home. But [Rall's wife] Darlene said to him at the finish, 'You're definitely missing something.'"

    Before Libretti joined Rescue 2, the company called themselves the "Pudding Heads," because their favorite cook at the time made chocolate pudding after every meal.

    "When Danny got here, he said, 'I got something better for you,' and he made up some chocolate mousse from scratch," Romeo said. "So then we became the 'Mousse Heads.' We got a little bit of class."

    After Libretti died, someone tried to keep his dessert tradition going, but it didn't work.

    "It was all lumps in it, like mousse hash," Romeo said sadly. "You gotta do the right thing with the chocolate."

    -- Elizabeth Moore (Newsday)



    http://cf1.newsday.infi.net/911/victimsearch.cfm?id=478

  2. #2
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    Will Never Forget

    I enjoyed reading about one of New York's Bravest who was happy to help his fellow man...............I'm sure he is missed by all who knew him but will never be forgotten.........

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